There are not many bands around today with the kind of history that we equate with Dragon. The New Zealand band that has called Australia home for the past four decades has been through a few incarnations. In 2006, they rose once more from the ashes to begin what has been dubbed The Phoenix Years and they will play their 500th show with the current line-up at Sydney’s Bridge Hotel in Rozelle this month.
The 500th gig at The Bridge Hotel is also the first of a series of shows where Dragon will be paying homage to three piece band The Police with a selection of the UK band’s songs to be included in their set. Rock Club 40 spoke to vocalist Mark Williams recently to find out the story behind the concept. “Basically,” he explains, “it came from just sitting around at the departure lounge of an airport somewhere, usually Sydney, where we were waiting for a plane. The demand is that we get there an hour ahead so we usually have half an hour or forty minutes of just sitting around, doing nothing and that’s usually when we take our meetings so it came from one of those. Todd brought up the idea and we were really quite happy with it.”
While the band will be playing mostly Dragon music in their set, Mark says that they will probably throw in about half a dozen Police songs. “They’ll be just scattered throughout the set. There’s a lot of classics that Dragon will do but there’s a few songs that we’ve started to infiltrate; Dragon songs that we haven’t been able to play for such a long time, so there’s a quite a wide songbook.”
And the guys don’t intend to end the tribute concept with The Police. There are plans to continue along the same lines in the future, paying homage to other artists that they admire. “We’ve all come up with ideas and they’re all slated down. Neil Young has always been my favourite,” he says, although he admits to being a little unsure how well that would work. We’ve just done a 40th celebration (tour) around the country for Dragon and I think it’s the same sort of thing. I think it’s mostly up and down the east coast.”
Mark is hoping that this tour will be just as successful as that Anniversary Tour last year which, he says, was “absolutely wonderful.” The tour took them virtually the length and breadth of the country. “We got everywhere,” he explains. “To Western Australia, up to Queensland… The one area we don’t seem to be going to, sadly, is Darwin and the Northern Territory. I really feel Dragon would go so well up there. It’s just uncharted territory for us at the moment but I think it comes down to cost, getting up there. It’s such a long drive. From what I hear, it’s such a thriving community up there for music and I do hear that a lot of people tour there. I just think the promoters haven’t caught wind of us just yet but we’ll get there, I know we will,” he laughs before adding “I’ve got my eyes set on Broome!”
The 40th Anniversary Tour also saw Dragon travelling extensively through New Zealand. “It was quite a massive event,” says Mark. “It was twenty one gigs in twenty three days or something like that. All I know is that I lasted the whole journey until the very last gig and my voice gave up but it didn’t seem to matter and if that ever happens, it’s usually up to the audience to sing so they don’t mind doing that, putting their voice to it. All the Dragon shows are like that. There’s a lot of audience participation. I actually got the flu and I didn’t realise it. The night before the very last show in New Zealand, I came back with the flu. It was a couple of weeks. Funny enough though, I haven’t had much trouble the last few years with the voice but I’m always very careful. It has to do with the travelling. There’s a lot of travelling involved with this band; the same with any band. You have to be careful about where you go and what you do afterwards.”
The band covered a lot of territory on the tour. “We started at the tip of the south island. We didn’t get to the top, north of Auckland, which is my home area, which is unfortunate but we managed to get as far as Auckland before we had to come back. We covered all except 200 kilometres. I’m from the far north. It’s north of Auckland which is the main city. It’s about 250 kilometres from the top. Todd is originally from the heartland area, which is the middle of the north island so Dragon does have a huge following there and it has really reinforced it the second time around. We’ve been together for seven, going on eight years now and we’ve been back there three or four times for pretty massive tours each time.”
Being on the road and doing these tours is just a part of life for Mark and the other band members. “I don’t think we ever get off the road,” he admits. “With this particular tour, I think we’re going through July, August and September and then October we’re back in New Zealand. I never feel like I’m off the road with this band and I’m absolutely loving it! We all are. We’ve kind of grown up together, this particular line-up. We have our little tiffs and we get back together as if nothing had ever gone wrong. Brothers in arms.”
The band is about to go into the studio for an acoustic recording of the Dragon classics, preparing for a ‘church run’ throughout New Zealand. “We’re doing this run through New Zealand where the venue is a church,” he explains, “so we’re putting out a CD towards that. We also have some new material and we should be in the studio right now. It’s usually once a year, we’re in the studio, putting down five or six songs. We’ve done it for about three or four years. Our last one would have been in April or May last year and we most definitely will be having some new material out.”
Mark still manages to fit in the odd solo performance here and there, whenever the opportunity comes up. “Usually, it’s guest appearances,” he explains. “Not as much as I would probably like to but I’m working too much with this band to have the opportunity to do much more than that. So it’s usually just guest appearances but still, I have my dreams and I still work towards doing stuff myself. Most of the work does come from New Zealand so I do go back there quite a lot. And Dragon let me do a couple of songs from my past so it’s pretty good. Usually in the encore, I’ll come out with an acoustic guitar and sing ‘Show No Mercy’ or something like that. So, we call it a variety show,” he laughs.
Just recently, the band was invited to play at a private function in South Africa. “I’d never been there,” says Mark. “It was very odd, travelling eighteen hours to get to Capetown, to find that you are at the same latitude as Sydney and it’s freezing there too. It was brilliant. We went there with the Hoodoo Gurus. It was absolutely wonderful. It was a private function for a small group of people, set on the beach over the Atlantic Ocean and it was absolutely unexpected and absolutely fabulous. It was good to get a feeling for what life is like in South Africa, even in the short time that we did. Black and white all mixed and how do they all fit together? I found it very interesting. It kind of reminded me of New Zealand in a way because the cultures are sort of mixed together. But it’s definitely a lot calmer in New Zealand! Of course, you were alert and you were a little bit spooked but I think it’s worth a trip to experience that sort of thing.”
The guys were only in South Africa for three days but they were intent on making the most of it. “It was very short but as soon as we got there, I was out on the streets, in Capetown, actually looking for a place I could buy guitar strings because I forgot to get some. I was walking and traipsing and very much feeling what it was like there. The thing is, because I am part Maori, they didn’t know I was a Kiwi. I don’t know how they got that! But there is a very strong connection for the southern latitude, with all the nations and I think it’s really terrific.”
Asked if there was a particular moment that stands out in his time with Dragon, Mark relates a story about a New Year’s Eve concert in Gisborne New Zealand. “Rhythm and Vines it was called; that was phenomenal. It had the capacity of holding 26,000 people upwards but when we arrived late afternoon, there was an act on and we were appearing after that act and there were only two people standing in the audience,” he laughs. “And we thought ‘Oh my God! What is going to happen?’ Well, I don’t know what happened but in the fifteen minutes when we were preparing to go on stage behind the curtain, out of the blue and over the hill, came a horde of thousands of people, and they were all in their twenties and all chanting Dragon! Dragon! Dragon! All ready to rock. Out of the blue! I couldn’t believe it. We had the wildest gig! I don’t know wherever they came from. I think they all camped in tents for the weekend. They just all descended on to the ground. I think that’s probably the biggest highlight for all of us. We were a support band. The main band was Jihad so the crowd were very young and we didn’t expect much. I’d say they were all in their twenties and thirties and they were all moshing down the front too.”
Which leads us to ask the question: What age group, if any, is a Dragon audience made up of these days? Is it still predominantly the over 40s who were going to see the original line-up back in the 70s or 80s? Or are the fans younger these days?
“No specific age group at all,” Mark replies. “It really is a broad cross section of young and old.” And, of course, the songs themselves never seem to date. “Yes, that’s right,” he agrees. “They’re ageless; they’re pretty timeless. They still speak the same pop sentiment as songs nowadays. In fact, (they are) even more risqué now.”
by Sharyn Hamey
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